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Upon Further Review: Broncos vs. Eagles

Posted Oct 1, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes his weekly look back at the game film, examining the Broncos' special teams excellence against the Eagles.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Fifty-two points don't happen by accident, and they don't happen by virtue of the offense itself. And when the Broncos put their half-century mark on the scoreboard on Sunday, they became the 15th team of the last 20 to score at least 50 points with at least one touchdown on defense or special teams.

A “SPECIAL” DAY

Trindon Holliday's speed is well-documented, but he doesn't get enough credit for his vision and how he sets up a return. On his 105-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, he starts out running just wide of the right hashmarks. By the time he begins making his cut to the left side at the 4-yard-line, he's forced the Eagles out of position; six Eagles are at the hashmarks or further outside, and another two are between the hashmarks, but angled toward the side Holliday vacated.

By the time Holliday is at the 10-yard-line, there are only three Eagles in play to potentially stop Holliday, and two of them are already targeted by Omar Bolden and David Bruton -- the two men you most want in front of you when setting up a long return. That left only Alex Henery with a chance.

Holliday's speed means that directional kicking on punts or kickoffs is a futile quest; teams have to play him more conservatively and not overcommit to one direction of the field, or else they will suffer a similar fate as the Eagles did Sunday.

Steven Johnson's fourth-quarter blocked punt resulted from two factors: a quick explosion off the snap from Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos and a mis-directed reaction from the blockers on the right side of the line, who focused their direction outside, doubling up on Adrian Robinson to the right and putting three men on Joel Dreessen to the left, while permitting Johnson's charge up the middle.

Johnson also executed his rush perfectly -- he went up for the block, but as he did, began moving in a trajectory that would have taken him to the right of Eagles punter Alex Henery. Even if Johnson had failed to block the punt, he would not have incurred a roughing-the-kicker penalty. This is heads-up play and shows the abundance of skill and awareness that the Broncos' rush, coverage and return teams possess.

GOING DEEP 

In the first 13 quarters of the season, Denver's offense had everything -- except a deep post route that didn't rely on yardage after the catch. It took just two tries for Peyton Manning and Eric Decker to change that, and bring the work of the offseason to fruition.

What makes the successful 52-yard connection between the two work is Earl Wolff's preoccupation with Manning and the targets moving underneath. Wolff sees Manning looking in the direction of Julius Thomas and stays where he is. Meanwhile, by the time Decker makes his cut on his post route, the safety is turned in the wrong direction and has no chance to be involved in the play. When Decker makes the reception, Wolff trails by two yards; it's all about whether Decker can beat Cary Williams one-on-one.

Manning had two check-down options in Welker and Moreno; by taking the deep shot, he'll ensure more open receivers underneath, as the deep post must be taken seriously. The Eagles' adaptation early in the third quarter was to drop more defenders deeper in coverage; when Demaryius Thomas made a 15-yard catch near the left sideline just after halftime, he didn't have an Eagle within five yards of him, and seven of their 11 defenders were at least 12 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

If you were a frequent attendee of training camp, you saw the deep post work with all three of the Broncos' first-team receivers, making it an even more dangerous threat -- and something that could take this offense to a still-higher level of proficiency, believe it or not. That, and the Broncos' ability to exploit any kind of coverage, is what makes this offense wonderful to watch. Savor it, Broncos fans, because you might not see anything like this in future years.

DEFENSIVE NOTES:

-- Stunts and delayed pass rushes are a trusted tactic. One terrific example of this was on a third-and-8 play, when Robert Ayers stunted inside and drew two blockers, allowing Terrance Knighton a free shot at Michael Vick. Making the play work was Shaun Phillips' rush from Vick's blind side; as he beat rookie Lane Johnson, he forced Vick to roll right, where Knighton forced a hurried throw that still might have been completed to Brent Celek if not for the tight coverage from Danny Trevathan.

-- Sometimes you have to remember that the Broncos have a handful of new starters, and nothing is going to be perfect. And while Duke Ihenacho had a generally solid performance, the moment he'll  want to have back led to the Eagles' longest gain of the day, a 38-yard pass to Zach Ertz.

In zone coverage, Ihenacho was the only defender with a chance at containing Ertz, who was free to the left side from Michael Vick's perspective. No defender was within seven yards of Ertz when Vick found him, and Ihenacho responded to the play too late to do anything more than limit the damage by bringing him down at the Denver 17-yard-line, 18 yards beyond where he made the catch. 

But Ihenacho deserves credit for preventing a touchdown, and the rest of his performance easily offset that fourth-quarter play. In spite of his bothersome ankle, Ihenacho's speed and aggression in attacking the run make him jump off the film.

-- The Broncos' sack total of 11 is one higher than it was at this point last season, although their tally of quarterback hits is down from 30 after four weeks in 2012 to 27 this year. Their hit and sack ratio is also down from last year. They hit quarterbacks once every five pass plays and sacked them once every 15 plays through four games of 2012; those rates are one every 6.8 plays and one every 16.7 plays, respectively, through four games this season. 

 But given the emergence of Robert Ayers -- whose sack total of 3.5 is a career-high -- and the explosiveness of Shaun Phillips in helping fill the Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil void, the Broncos have mustered an effective pass rush that should become downright potent when Miller returns in Week 7.

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